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Equity, Inclusion, Access, Anti-Racism, and Design Education: Lessons learned during the Covid-19 Pandemic

Context of Roundtable in November 2020

During the AIGA National Virtual Conference held in November 2020, AIGA Design Educator Community steering committee members, Gaby Hernández and Rebecca Tegtmeyer, facilitated a roundtable focused on “Challenges with Diversity + Inclusion in Online Design Education.”  The goal of the roundtable was to facilitate a discussion space regarding the ways educators had been addressing challenges caused by the lack of diversity, access, equity, and inclusion in online education up to that point in the Covid-19 pandemic, which had been about 7-8 months. 

Prior to transitioning online as a result of Covid-19, diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice initiatives were making a slow rise to the top of many academic institution’s priority lists. With time, these efforts seemed to accelerate as the world responded to violent and racist systems that directly impact immigrants and minority communities of color in the US, including the multiple 2020 social movements in support of Black communities, against police brutality and race-based profiling.  All of this left many educators questioning and re-evaluating their individual approaches to equity, inclusion, and anti-racism in the classroom. We wanted to provide a space for others to share how they are studying these topics, identifying areas that need improvement, and making change. 

We started the roundtable discussion by asking the following questions:

Eighteen participants contributed written ideas and experiences to a digital whiteboard space while verbally discussing the various answers as they were being shared. In our dual role as moderators and participants, we identified some critical topics that seemed to have affected us all. These include:

Urgent need of guidance from our institutions for protocols and procedures

“Where do faculty go if they encounter a (discrimination, inequity, exclusion, etc) situation in detriment to their own persona?”

“I think part of this though too is students not wanting to share (personal struggle) aspects with each other or feel judged by their peers.”

Urgent need to acknowledge students’ unique backgrounds and experiences in class to support anti-racist and equitable learning

“Not everyone is ignoring (discrimination, exclusion, inequity, etc) history, tho. There are many students who know this history because they’re living it and it becomes imperative to their experience when a mentor or instructor acknowledges them.”

In online teaching, attendance doesn’t equate student engagement

“Attendance requirements are extremely inequitable.”

“I’ve had students zoom in from McDonald’s parking lots in their cars because that was the only connection they had.”

“I’ve had several students turn their camera off because they are trying to attend class while at work.”

Equitable, accessible, and inclusive use of technology in online design education requires funds, creativity, and curiosity. At the same time, elements like students’ beliefs, cultural background, identity, and socioeconomic status need to be acknowledged and addressed

“(It has been challenging to…) Conveying to colleagues the importance of not requiring video being turned on for students of certain faiths.”

“Adapting class requirements to bandwidth issues  for students in rural areas / areas without great internet. Simple adjustments—not requiring attendance but grading engagement; changing deadline times.”

Action-items as we prepare for Fall 2021

While November 2020 was nearly 7 months ago and we were all knee-deep in online teaching, the present future has us looking towards a Fall 2021 semester in which we will be transitioning back to pre-pandemic teaching activities. As we reflect back on the past 3 semesters of online design education we have all started to ask the question: What did we learn from crisis-teaching in relation to equity, access, inclusion, and anti-racism, and what did we start to do differently during this time? Obvious challenges such as time management, self-care, and greater awareness of inclusive pedagogies rose to the surface. So, we wonder— how will these problems and learnings better inform our priorities when we return to in-person dynamics? How will we work around mental health issues caused by pandemic anxiety, as we move toward rebuilding comfortable and safe classrooms/studio environments? 

The following is an actionable list of tangible ideas for design educators to consider as we look toward the upcoming Fall 2021 semester and beyond.

Design an inclusive syllabus

An inclusive syllabus effectively supports ALL students—those with different learning styles, abilities, identities, experiences, privileges, backgrounds, and environments. This is important because inequities are inherently built into our institutional systems and practices, calling on us to intentionally acknowledge and counteract these systems of oppression. Some aspects to consider when designing an inclusive syllabus are:

Re-design projects and lectures

Build community in the classroom and beyond

Consider the affordances of digital tools and platforms used in virtual activities and classrooms when returning to pre-pandemic dynamics


AIGA DEC Statements on Promotion and Tenure Standards in the time of the Coronavirus Pandemic

AIGA DEC Anti-Racism, Equity + Inclusion Resources

AIGA DEC Anti-Asian Racism and Violence Resources

AIGA DEC SHIFT Virtual Conversations and Discussions via the DEC YouTube channel

Safe Spaces and Brave Spaces, Diana Ali, NASPA’s Research and Policy Institute (RPI)

Syllabus Language, Center for Teaching and Learning (Ohio University)

We’d welcome  additional resources to be listed here. Email your go-to links to:


AIGA National Conference, Challenges with Diversity + Inclusion in Design Education in Online Design Education Roundtable, November 12, 2020, with Marc Belli, Eric Benson, David Greenawait, Gaby Hernández, Meena Khalili, Katrin Loss, Amy Mangan, Laura McCarty, John Colan Monsterrat, Maren Northern, Christina Ottey, Ali Place, Megan Rhee, Kaleena Sales, Lisa Sheirer, Arina Stopa, Rebecca Tegtmeyer, Natalie Tyree,Lisa Whalley,  and Liese Zahabi

Michigan State University, College of Arts and Letters, Inclusive Pedagogy Initiative Workshop, March 26, 2021, facilitated by Denise M. Acevedo, Katie McEwen, Ellen Moll, Kate Sonka, and Rebecca Tegtmeyer

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